In about the last two minutes of this 60 Minutes episode that aired last night, Andy Rooney does his favorite thing, which is to tell you for two minutes that you are doing everything wrong.
Thanksgiving, he explains, is about family and togetherness and the things that we're grateful for. Therefore, you must not use canned pumpkin. Or canned cranberry sauce. Because, he says, "we should" fix Thanksgiving dinner exactly the way the Pilgrims did.
This makes absolutely no sense, and the story of the year I made Thanksgiving dinner, after the jump.
Wondering why "we should"? Oh, he will not explain that part. Instead, he will go on to say that not only should you not use anything from a can, but you should not use a frozen turkey, You must only use a freshly killed turkey, because freezing the turkey isn't what the Pilgrims would have done.
Of course, if we are all going to attempt to recreate a perfect Pilgrim Thanksgiving, we won't be able to stop there. According to this standard, it is also wrong to use your oven, refrigerate anything, use mass-produced flatware, purchase anything at the grocery store, use potatoes you did not grow yourself, drive or fly anywhere to be with your family, call anyone on the phone, watch a football game, play in a football game, hold a football, use a recipe handed down by your family (after all, at the first Thanksgiving, they didn't have the benefit of previous Thanksgivings, now, did they?), or, heaven forfend, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I'm fascinated by the idea that, rather than enjoying your own family traditions, you are obligated to travel back in time 400 years or so so that you can precisely duplicate the cooking and baking methods of the Pilgrims, and that this is somehow key to nailing down what you are thankful for. I am also fascinated by the fact that he says you shouldn't use anything in a can, and then says that he uses canned chicken soup to make gravy. Which is it, Andy Rooney?
My theory of Thanksgiving? Do what pleases your family. My family happens to include someone who only wants the cranberry sauce "in the shape of the can." So that's what we do. One year, when I was away from home, I went to a friend's house, and she said she was no cook and warned me they'd be getting the entire meal from Safeway. Was it the best food I've ever had? No. But she welcomed me to her home with her family, and believe me, I remember that year very fondly.
In fact, one year, my mother's knee was out, so I made the entire Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey, the gravy, the potatoes, the pies, the pumpkin bread ... I made everything, with my mom sitting there with her foot up in the kitchen. I'd bring over the bowl of whatever it was and say, "Does this look right?" And she would say it looked right, or that it needed a bit more flour, or she'd hop over and peer into the oven and say something was or wasn't quite done.
That was probably my favorite Thanksgiving of all time, in some ways, even though the food was probably not as good as it was when she made it. That was the year I learned to make everything as much like she did as I possibly could. And while I love the fact that we tear up a bag of bread and dump it into the turkey roaster as the beginning of making stuffing, I'm fairly confident that the canned pumpkin didn't destroy the experience for anyone.
So as you review the sentimental Thanksgiving pieces that will surely grace your local news program this week, give yourself a break. Andy Rooney wants you to cook like a Pilgrim, but I promise, the rest of us aren't judging.